Patent Watch: Google Personalizing Search Like Facebook Personalizes News?

A fresh clutch of patent applications from Google hints at the mysterious search algorithm. Plus, ideas for product placement on YouTube and more on Google’s Project Glass.

project glass


Personalizing Google Search

Google’s algorithm doesn’t just decide what pops up on the first page of search results. It’s the stuff of complex third-party angst, law-making, lawsuits, and even the idea that the algorithm, based ultimately on decisions by human programmers, is protected under U.S. free speech laws. Google’s hyper-sensitive to it too, which makes brand-new U.S. patent number 8180776 all the more interesting.

It’s designed to “provide a mechanism and a methodology by which the user can variably adjust the degree to which his interests influence the results of a given search query.” It seems a bit like the way you can decide which status updates from which of your friends on Facebook are flowed into your “news” feed–Google’s patent outlines a set of parameters that you can adjust so that they affect which search results are featured in its response page after you type in a search query.

The problem with most searches is that while they are very good at matching the words in your query with results, they’re not good at reflecting users’ personal interests. As Google suggests in the introduction to the patent, this means if two people search for “drug testing in baseball” they’ll get the same results even if one is, perhaps professionally, looking to understand drug use in society, and the other is just interested in the sports angle of which teams have applied drug test protocols.

As useful as this would be, it also could be hellishly controversial, upsetting the SEO industry and all the fine-tuned ways that online publications get featured in search results. There would almost certainly be legal ramifications. Brace yourselves. 

Product Placement Rewards On YouTube

Advertisers work hard and spend a frightful amount of money trying to grab our attention by paying for carefully constructed advertising campaigns on TV and in the movie theater, both as direct ads and product placements. Now Google’s got your back, big brands of the world! New U.S. patent 8180667 is all about “Rewarding creative use of product placements in user-contributed video.”

Google points out that hundreds of millions of YouTube clips get uploaded every day. What if you could get paid as an uploader for cleverly including a branded product in your clip? That would encourage you to be creative in making your video, and it would act as a de facto branded advert for an advertising partner (that of course Google would control via its existing paid ad channels). This patent is all about making that process as easy as possible by verifiying that a placed product is indeed featured in a clip automatically, mainly by looking for a branded logo using image processing and pattern recognition techniques. 


And it would add an eerie, potentially sickly use of branded product placements in what we can only guess would be a deluge of YouTube clips trying to earn cash. Nyan Cat wearing Nike sneakers, anyone?

TV Channel Logo Detection On YouTube

Of course YouTube is also host to plenty of content that TV networks would rather not be on there, because they’d rather you pay for a cable or satellite subscription. That’s why they plaster their logos into the corners of your favorite shows … and that’s what new patent 8175413 is designed for: Automatically identifying these kinds of proprietary logos on uploaded clips so that a judgment can be made on whether they infringe someone else’s IP or not.

Geotagged Voice Recognition

Voice recognition on mobile devices is harder than for desktop machines because of the prevalence of background noise. Now U.S. patent 8175872 demonstrates two things about this: First it shows Google expects voice recognition systems to become pretty ubiquitous, and it suggests a way to use geotagging to remove background noise and thus improve recognition.

The idea’s pretty simple: If there are several folk speaking to their mobile devices in an area, chances are they’ll all be sampling some of the same background sounds. By geotagging your voice uplink, a cloud server somewhere could use that information to identify background noises and then subtract those signals from everyone’s audio feed. Brilliant. Clever. And quite definitely creepy.

Project Glass

We know Google wants to change the world with a revolutionary augmented reality device called Project Glass, and we know what it looks like because we’ve seen a few in the wild already. Now Google’s moved to patent the design of Glass’s headset in three different versions: One is the high-tech “headband” version that’s been shown already, another is just the frame for that headband without a prominent over-eye projection module, and the final is for a fashion-conscious version that looks more like traditional sunglasses.


Great to see Google’s concerned that we all don’t look like extras from Star Trek when wearing Glass, but what we really want to see is more data on how the actual things work. Guess we’ll have to wait.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.


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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)